India: public-private partnership helps women change rules

09 Sep 2010

Women clamor to sign the Women’s Empowerment Charter in Sant Ravidas Nagar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, India. © Niklas Hallen, UNDP India

A public-private initiative setting up self-help groups among rural women in one of India’s poorest and most populous states has created a dramatic increase in political awareness and participation.

The social programme to create female entrepreneurs in eastern Uttar Pradesh, in northern India, has led to a 100 percent increase over the last five years in voter registration for some villages in the region.

While the new joint initiative between Swedish home-furnishing emporium IKEA and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) started in 2009, women’s empowerment had already been a focus in Uttar Pradesh over the last 10 years for the UN and IKEA.

So far the five-year programme has created 238 self-help groups to boost literacy and leadership among 50,000 women in the 500 villages of the districts of Jaunpur, Mirzapur and Sant Ravidas Nagar.

The groups are now able to access small loans offered through national financial institutions to set up enterprises, for example within the dairy and crafts industries. Group-based loan applications can be more successful, especially where individual applicants are without collateral, and in a country where two-thirds of the population lacks access to the banking system.

One group member, 35-year-old Samodha Devi, received a loan for the equivalent of US$215 to buy a buffalo and now she earns 32 cents per litre of milk. Her earnings are likely to increase when she joins a women-led dairy federation supported by UNDP.

The groups have created new awareness among women like Devi of the importance of participation in local decision-making and democratic processes such as council elections.

“Through participating in the political process, availing of entitlements and building economic identities, the project has demonstrated the power of women’s leadership in a short span of time,” said Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP Country Director in India.

“We are witnessing a unique convergence of agencies, schemes, resources and knowledge which is helping women voice their priorities and make a difference in the development process in their villages,” said Wiesen.

As part of the UNDP-IKEA project, group members are travelling through villages with a 12-point charter on women’s empowerment. The 10-foot tall charter aims to raise awareness of initiatives that can help them.

The goal of promoting empowerment of women is one of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that will be reviewed at a high level UN summit in New York between 20-22 September.

The MDGs aim to substantially reduce poverty and hunger; empower women; increase access to essential services of education, healthcare, clean water and sanitation; reduce the incidence of specific deadly diseases; protect the environment; and forge strong global partnerships for development.

One of the indicators for the MDG goal on women’s empowerment is the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament.

For more on India and the MDGs, see:
http://content.undp.org/go/newsroom/2010/september/achieving-mdgs-in-india.en